With nonstop political controversy, a flood of international tragedies and far too many beloved celebrities snatched from us, many people are anxious to say good riddance to 2016.
But it’s been far from all bad news in the world of weed. In many ways, it’s actually been a groundbreaking, tide-turning, game-changing run for marijuana.
So before we kiss this year goodbye, we’re counting down the top 16 cannabis stories that happened in or affected California over the past 12 months.
Read on for our picks on the Golden State’s 16th through the ninth most significant pot tales. And click the links below to read the full stories — plus check out the photos and videos — that shaped our year.
Then come back to The Cannifornian on New Year’s Eve to check out the top eight stories of 2016.
16. Celebrities continue to cash in on the industry
This year, Tommy Chong joined the ranks of Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson, who’d previously launched their own lines of cannabis products. Wiz Khalifa, Ghostface Killah and Master P also released branded weed lines, as did estates for Hunter S. Thompson and Bob Marley. Whoopi Goldberg debuted cannabis products focused on easing period pain for women. Woody Harrelson tried and failed at opening a pot shop in Hawaii, while rapper The Game became part-owner of a Santa Ana dispensary that carries his branded products.
15. Support for legalization hits all-time high
A Gallup poll in October found that 60 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana – up from 12 percent when the survey group first asked the question in 1969. Some 13 percent of Americans also told Gallup surveyors they currently smoke weed, which is nearly double the percentage who acknowledged pot use in 2013.
14. Sitting California congressman says he uses medical marijuana
It’s not uncommon for legislators to admit to using pot in their youth. But U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who’s a Republican from Costa Mesa, is the first sitting congressman in at least several decades to acknowledge being a cannabis consumer while in office.
In May, the congressman told a group of industry folks that he’d been using a cannabis-infused candle he discovered at festival in San Bernardino to ease arthritis pain. And he said it worked.
13. California hopes to lead the way in easing banking woes
Since marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, major banks and credit card companies won’t do business with growers and dispensaries out of fear they’ll be penalized for money laundering. So state Treasurer John Chiang has formed a working group focused on finding ways to provide banking services for the cannabis industry, which is now forced to operate largely in cash.
California has a year to come up with a plan. That’s when the state’s first recreational marijuana shops are expected to open under voter-approved Proposition 64.
12. Marijuana goes mainstream
HBO brought the YouTube series “High Maintenance” to cable TV this year, following a weed dealer in Brooklyn. MTV also launched “Mary + Jane,” based on an all-female pot delivery service in Los Angeles. And Viceland recently aired its first episode of reality cooking show “Bong Appetit.”
The tourism and hospitality industries are also taking notice, with cannabis-themed painting parties, cocktails and yoga classes. And they’re planning for more – much more – in the future.
11. Athletes fight to use medical marijuana
The NFL continues to view marijuana in the same class as heroin and cocaine, meting out 26 suspensions for “substance abuse” this season – the majority of which were marijuana-related.
But a growing group of players are taking up the fight for marijuana as an answer to pro football’s decades-long battle with chronic pain. And with funding from former Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Eugene Monroe, a Colorado nonprofit is rolling out two studies of current and former NFL players to help understand their use of marijuana, with an eye toward also easing the league’s concussion crisis.
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr also spoke in support of marijuana over painkillers for basketball players earlier this month.
10. Obama and Gov. Brown pardon drug offenders
President Barack Obama launched a clemency initiative in 2014 as a way to shorten the sentences of drug offenders given what he considered to be unduly harsh sentences. He’s now commuted the sentences of more federal prison inmates than any president since Harry Truman. That includes Paul Free, a Coronado native who on Dec. 19 had his sentence of life without parole for nonviolent marijuana offenses converted to 30 years.
Gov. Jerry Brown has also forgiven more felons in the past six years than were pardoned in the previous 30. Many of those clemencies have been for drug-related crimes.
9. Pharma focuses on cannabis
A growing number of California biotech companies are trying to develop pharmaceutical-grade drugs based on cannabis that are rigorously tested, will likely be covered by insurance and can be patented.
The sector has surged in recent months, with more than half of all investments in the marijuana industry now going to biotech companies seeking the “next billion-dollar drug” derived from marijuana to treat everything from epilepsy to chronic pain. One expert predicts the market for such drugs could reach $20 million by 2020.